The Co-op Funeralcare homepage includes a section dedicated to arranging a funeral. Within it there’s the option to ‘start an arrangement online’. If someone chooses to do this, we ask them to fill in a form to give us details about the person who has died and their relationship to them. They will then get a call back as soon as possible.
The ‘start an arrangement online’ service is just the first step in the process. The form went live around 2 years ago and iterating it hasn’t been high priority, despite a lot of other changes being made to how Co-op Funeralcare offers its services. Analytics have shown us that the drop-out rate on the form is very high – though it has been difficult to track where people drop out, or whether they ring the number on the page instead.
But, instead of removing the form that appears to be ‘failing’ according to dropout rates, we carried out research because we know:
- There is a small subset of people who use this form who are dealing with unexpected or tragic deaths and it is vital we provide an alternative way to phone calls or in-person meetings for them to start an arrangement. While the number is small, their needs are especially important.
- In principle, taking information online rather than a conversation means colleagues have more time to speak with people who are further into the process who need personalised care and understanding from a human.
So how we might make the digital experience as simple and pain-free as possible to avoid any unnecessary stress?
How we recruited for the research sessions
Our 10 participants were people who had been the primary funeral arranger for funerals that took place between 6 and 12 months ago. We wanted to avoid more distress for anyone who had lost someone within the last 6 months – this seemed too soon. That said, we were carrying out the research during the coronavirus crisis which increased the risk of having recruited someone who had experienced loss recently.
We recruited a mix of ages, gender, tech literacy (we always aim for this), and we also made sure they had used a range of funeral providers.
What we tested
We tested the live version because it had undergone minimal iteration for several years ago. But, we also tested 2 variants which we designed based on what we know now, 2 years on. We wanted the form to feel like something someone could do as much or as little of as they wanted during an emotional time, and we would take care of the rest. A staged prototype was better at conveying the idea that it is ok for someone to move around the form, and stop when they wanted.
However, the more interesting findings for us were the small improvements we can make to the current form that we feel will make a big impact.
3 things we learnt
1. The visual design needs to feel different
We heard that the live form looks ‘cold’ and one participant likened it to a tax return. We’ve been thinking about how we might change it so that it feels warmer and more personal, rather than an intimidating, tick-box-style chore. We also need to balance that with simplicity to reduce the risk of overwhelm.
2. The content needs to reduce cognitive load for users
We observed several instances where participants weren’t sure how to answer a question. For example, the form asks “Were they known by another name?” and one participant’s response during the research was “different people called him different things. He had at least 3 nicknames.” They felt the form should indicate why it was asking this and what it might be used for.
Similarly, there was a feeling that the form needed to prompt people about what information to give in a box that says “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us or think we should know?” One participant pointed out that “you’re not really thinking straight when you fill this in” but they were still keen to add an answer.
We’ve been thinking about how we might reduce the cognitive load for people by including prompts and examples, and being clear why we’re asking for certain information. It’ll help people give the information we need and – importantly – help them feel reassured and confident they’re doing it ‘right’. The form also asks for information that the Funeralcare team don’t necessarily need at this stage so removing those questions would mean we’re not adding to the load.
3. The form needs to fit within the service as a whole
We found that participants are often very concerned with ‘getting it right’ and we heard people say “I want it to be perfect”. This understandably comes up a lot because giving someone a ‘good send–off’ is seen as a way to honour the dead and show respect. We’ve been thinking about how we might reassure people that they’ve completed the form correctly and they’re confident they know what happens next – in this case they wait for one of our Funeralcare colleagues to get in touch. One participant said: “I didn’t know what to do… I spent so much time organising that I didn’t have time to grieve.”
We looked at the form in isolation, but making changes to it will help us collect data and see how it fits within the wider service so we can see how we can simplify or communicate what happens throughout the entire process.
Remote research: tread carefully, be sensitive (even more than usual)
Death is an emotional subject and research around funerals must always be carried out with acute sensitivity. However, carrying out research around funerals in the midst of a pandemic has been particularly challenging – doing it remotely makes it harder to pick up on non-verbal communication so we’ve had to tread even more carefully than usual. It’s important to remember that it’s impossible to know what participants are going through, but we worked with an awareness that mortality is at the forefront of many people’s minds.
To try and put participants at ease we sent instructions for downloading the remote clients and tips for video calls. We also sent over photos of us to introduce ourselves a little better and spent longer than we usually would chatting and easing into the start of each session.
Over the 2 days of research, we contended with:
- technical difficulties – we had to factor in extra time for things going wrong
- emotional stress likely brought on by lockdown – for example, pets and children in the same room as the participant
- reading emotional signals from the participant and knowing how to guide the session would be interesting
- participants realising they’re not prepared for the discussion. We tried to make sure they felt supported and heard despite the session not going the way we had intended
We have written up and played back our findings to various stakeholders and are now looking at how we can make measurable improvements to the experience.